New York

Larry Bell and Eric Orr

If you can’t get your wild, visionary project financed, you can always make smaller, attractive art objects in its place. We get used to grandiose monuments which never get past the planning stage, and we take pleasure in seeing the scraps that went into their planning (generally this is not thought to be a perverse pleasure). The unfulfilled projects are usually sincere enough, no matter how unnecessary; we believe the person who envisions the prospect of a gargantuan hole in the desert. Sincerity takes the form of fast, hard, sloppy drawings and scribblings over geographic charts. There is a certain thrill in indications such as “1000 yds.” and “construction vehicle area.” The plans alone, with their disconcerting nonvisuality, say: “I don’t give a damn about these things, I only care about that four tons of earth.” The drawings have to look that way; they are raw idea. If we come to think of them as art objects, then we may make the error of estheticizing.

But suppose you think of a very large project that embodies a nice idea but it may be a very long time before anyone will put up the money for it. Say it’s Larry Bell and Eric Orr’s 17-foot-in-diameter bowl-shaped, glass-walled solar fountain with a base of triangular shaped supports 10 feet high, out of which will continuously billow a foggy cloud. Now why not bypass all that tough black and white conceptual stuff and make the work your dream about how the bowl might look next to the pyramids, the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge, or any number of assorted wonders? And why not depict this bowl on brilliantly, almost tastelessly beautiful mirrored glass? And why not do a couple of them in editions of, say, 75 since, as long as you are dreaming of them scattered around the globe, you might as well place examples of the dream plan in a whole bunch of different places?

Bell and Orr present just such a map of the world, with little glass bowls all over the place, like missile sites strategically placed in the proper cultural settings. The shimmering images of this minisuperbowl next to the pyramids, etc., have a fairy-tale humor which cannot be unintentional. With all the technically stunning color and immaculate surface, is there any reason to risk it by actually making these things to scale on site? My question is not exactly rhetorical. The “drawings” are either commercially suspect or deeply pragmatic.

In a separate room sits a small, three dimensional “mock-up” of the bowl, although it is so thoroughly self-contained that I don’t know what I’d learn from a larger version. In fact, (I suspect) the smaller piece might be better: it is actually only one-quarter of the bowl with mirrors placed in the room’s corner to simulate the complete volume. It is a funny little piece of mirroring and illusion, reflection and disguise. And it is funny in the sense of “cute,” something that should be adult but is still childish. It loses even the sense of irony of the “drawings.” My main criticism would stem from Bell’s own success with the formally simpler versions of similar pieces (like the two-panel freestanding sculptures with half-mirrored and half-transparent surfaces). There seems to be no point in blowing up a decent sculptural idea to anti-human scale, and dropping it among a bunch of tourist traps. It makes obvious, and sours, other such attempts which aspire to be “wonders of the world,” while exposing such ventures as either products of megalomania or ironic impotence.

Jeff Perrone